PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Television

Teddy: In His Own Words

Teddy: In His Own Words illustrates Kennedy's dogged devotion to "public service," even as his narration avoids digging too deeply into causes and effects.

Teddy: In His Own Words

Airtime: Monday, 9pm ET
Cast: Edward Kennedy (narrator)
Network: HBO
Air date: 2009-07-13
Website
Trailer
Amazon
The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to the obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress.

-- Ted Kennedy (8 June 1968)

"I wanted to be president. That was not in the cards. That was certainly not a pleasant experience." As Edward Kennedy makes this bland observation, you're looking at photos of his retreat from the podium at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. Convinced at the time that he was right to challenge Jimmy Carter for the presidency, Kennedy discovered that he did not have the necessary votes within the party. And so, he made his announcement while his supporters chanted his name and dabbed at their eyes.

According to Teddy: In His Own Words, the disappointment resulted from a vague confluence of forces, primarily a newspaper story that resurrected what Kennedy once called the tragedy of Chappaquiddick." The article -- the headline noted in close-up -- offered no new information, no details concerning the long-rumored cover-up of Kennedy's liability that night in July 1969, and no name-clearing either. But merely raising the specter was enough to dash the Massachusetts senator's intraparty insurrection. And so, he endured yet another "unpleasant" turn of events.

He endured lots of these. The documentary makes this much clear, along with the senator's dogged devotion to "public service," even as his narration avoids digging too deeply into causes and effects. In this patent lack of questioning, the film might be said to take up an unusual structure: an assembly of stills and footage (some little seen, some all too familiar) is accompanied by Kennedy's comments (some helpfully descriptive, some decidedly lackluster). This unusual structure makes the documentary a striking choice to initiate HBO's Summer Documentary Series. The point here is not to revisit adversities like Chappaquiddick and his brothers' assassinations or even to look very closely at his remarkable record in the Senate. The point is to let Teddy look back for 90 minutes, to say what he wants to say.

That's not to suggest the documentary is Ted Kennedy's own project. He insists he's not interested in a "legacy" (that "I've always wanted to try and be a better person and always perceived my role as to try and get some things done"). But the film appears very interested in laying out a legacy -- partly in the context of the Kennedy family and partly in a wider historical scope. To this end, it provides somewhat obscure footage and stills -- Teddy flat on his back on following a 1964 plane crash, Teddy and Bobby joshing one another as they enter the Senate together for the first time, as Teddy notes he was the senior senator (this is slightly later in 1964, when they were slender and boyish and preternaturally attractive). It also serves up well-known imagery, such as Teddy's moving eulogy for Bobby in 1968 or his endorsement of Obama in 2008.

The film suggests that Teddy played a crucial role in Watergate -- in the sense that the administration was specifically looking for information on Kennedy or "one of theirs." The movie cuts from stark-seeming photos of Nixon and Haldeman in the Oval Office, under odious audiotapes, to Kennedy's description in hindsight: "It was clear that this was an atmosphere and a climate where the White House was taking no prisoners and they were infiltrating the movement." The "movement" was essentially anti-war, perceived by the Nixon crew as anti-Nixon, and included Ted Kennedy, whom John Dean describes during the senate hearings as subjected to "the greatest amount of surveillance."

For all of this momentous sweep, the film never loses sight of the connections between Kennedy's personal experience and his professional dedications. He took up Bobby's campaign for the Democratic nomination with a particular focus on the war and civil rights, and made the case early and often for universal health care, citing his own family's many encounters with illness and their position at "the tip the iceberg" (that is, being able to pay for the best possible care) as a point of departure. "As long as I'm a voice in the United States Senate," he says in circa-1970s footage, "It's going to be for the Democratic plank for health care." As everyone knows, the cacophony of health care problems has only grown exponentially over the past three decades.

Even if this matter remains unresolved, In His Own Words repeatedly notes Kennedy's dedication to "public service." His decision to run again and again for the Senate (nine times) stands as proof of his declaration that, after his withdrawal from the 1980 campaign, "I'm going to be active in terms of party affairs. By disposition, nature, and desire, I'm an activist."

In the intervening years, Kennedy has continued to suffer "unpleasant" incidents (including, most infamously, the rape charges brought against his nephew William Smith, after Teddy took him and a cousin out drinking) and, of course, his current struggle with brain cancer. This last is prominent in the film, which begins and ends with his appearance at the 2008 DNC. "The work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on," he says, as cheering conventioneers wave blue placards bearing name and the camera cuts to close-ups of tearful Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy. As he steps away from the podium this time, his wave appears in slow motion and the film offers a montage of images it's already shown you -- little Teddy looking up at his father Joe, teenaged Ted playing football with his brothers, and the senator sailing on Cape Cod. Yes, he's had an incredible life, a mishmash of crisis and uplift. And he's still working on it.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.